WBEZ | Lake Erie http://www.wbez.org/tags/lake-erie Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en New potentially toxic algae turns up on Great Lakes beach http://www.wbez.org/news/new-potentially-toxic-algae-turns-great-lakes-beach-104540 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/LyngbaHand.jpg" style="float: right; height: 225px; width: 300px;" title="An algae that is potentially toxic has shown up on a Michigan beach at Lake St. Clair.(Vijay Kannappan)" />A new species is apparently making its way onto Great Lakes beaches, and it is potentially toxic.</div><p>Native to the southeastern United States, it is a blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, called Lyngbya wollei.&nbsp; It was first found in the Great Lakes region in the St. Lawrence Seaway in 2005. Then it was spotted in Lake Erie in 2006.</p><p>Now it has been identified at Lake St. Clair Metropark north of Detroit, according to Wayne State University ecologist Donna Kashian.</p><p>Her research paper on the finding is under review for publication in an upcoming issue of the <a href="http://www.iaglr.org/jglr/journal.php" target="_blank">Journal of Great Lakes Research</a>.</p><p>Kashia first spotted the cyanobacteria in 2009 while documenting vegetation prior to an effort to remove an invasive shoreline weed from the park.</p><p>&ldquo;Once we got there, it became obvious there was this other stuff all over the beach,&rdquo; she said. She immediately recognized it as a type of Lyngbya. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s very distinctive. It washes up in balls, like pebbles. If you took coarse hair and rubbed it like Play-Doh between your hands into a ball and dyed it green, that&rsquo;s exactly what it looks like.&rdquo;</p><p>In 2010, she and several other researchers separately determined it was Lyngbya wollei, the same organism that has plagued waters in the southeastern United States for decades. It forms thick, nuisance blooms and releases toxins that can cause skin, oral and gastrointestinal inflammation.</p><p>Kashian suspects that the cyanobacteria entered the Great Lakes system by hitchhiking on the hulls of boats.</p><p>She has seen Lyngbya wollei at the park every year since her initialdiscovery. She noted an especially large amount in 2012, possibly due to the hot summer.</p><p>But it may have been around for some time.</p><p>For a decade or so, park staff have seen what is presumed to be the same cyanobacteria on the beach, although they never identified it, said Paul Muelle, chief of natural resources for the Huron Clinton Metroparks, which includes the Lake St. Clair park.</p><p>&ldquo;We get some (every year), but since we clean the beach on a daily basis during the use season, it really hasn&rsquo;t been a huge problem there,&rdquo; he said. Because other weeds make up the bulk of the daily beach grooming, pinpointing the cost for removal of the cyanobacteria is difficult. Nonetheless, using information from Muelle, Kashian estimated that the park&rsquo;s tab for removal of Lyngbya was about $10,000 in 2010.</p><p>&ldquo;Where we are noticing it more is in the natural areas where we don&rsquo;t do active management,&rdquo; Muelle said. He described mats of Lyngbya wollei that extend &ldquo;40-50 feet wide,&rdquo; in the area of the park near Point Rosa Marsh.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/LyngbaBeach-copy-copy.jpg" style="height: 225px; width: 300px; float: left;" title="An algae that is potentially toxic has shown up on a Michigan beach at Lake St. Clair. (Vijay Kannappan)" />&ldquo;And it&rsquo;s deep,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;We had grass growing on the top of it. It looks like solid ground and I tried to walk out there, but you could go up to your waist in gook. It was pretty excessive.&rdquo;</div><p>One concern is that Lyngbya will spread to other areas, particularly to shallow-water areas such as parts of Saginaw Bay and to inland lakes, Kashian said. The other concern is that it will produce toxins.</p><p>&ldquo;It absolutely could become toxic here, but we don&rsquo;t know enough about it,&rdquo; Kashian said. She noted that even with the blooms of Microcystis, a different type of cyanobacteria that has been heavily studied, scientists still don&rsquo;t know why only some blooms are toxic.</p><p>&ldquo;They don&rsquo;t know what triggers it to start producing toxins, and we know even less about Lyngbya than Microcystis,&rdquo; she said.</p><p>While Lyngbya wollei typically carries a toxin in the southern United States, the Lake Erie sample was not toxic. Kashian&rsquo;s funding didn&rsquo;t cover toxicity research. Instead, she investigated if the cyanobacteria at the park harbor E. coli bacteria, a bacteria that often prompts beach closings.</p><p>&ldquo;We found very high levels of bacteria in these mats,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s a problem because it&rsquo;s all over the beach, and if you have a lot of bacteria and kids play on it, they can potentially get sick. In addition, if you have large deposits on the shore and there&rsquo;s wave action, bacteria could actually be transported back into the lake and that could contribute to beach closures.&rdquo;</p><p>The mats also disrupt water flow into and out of Point Rosa Marsh, Muelle said. Marsh-restoration is under way and the removal of the Lyngbya mats is part of that effort. At the swimming beach, &ldquo;the question is how do we manage this,&rdquo; Muelle said. &ldquo;If there are problems, obviously we&rsquo;re concerned about public contact.&rdquo;</p><p>Kashian added, &ldquo;It&rsquo;s definitely an invasive, nuisance species worth watching, because it hasn&rsquo;t been documented in the Great Lakes before the first sightings in the St. Lawrence.&rdquo;</p><p><em><a href="http://greatlakesecho.org/" target="_blank">Great Lakes Echo</a> is a project of the <a href="http://ej.msu.edu/index2.php" target="_blank">Knight Center for Environmental Journalism</a> at Michigan State University. </em></p></p> Sun, 23 Dec 2012 15:42:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/new-potentially-toxic-algae-turns-great-lakes-beach-104540 Keeping an eye on the Great Lakes 'canary' http://www.wbez.org/news/keeping-eye-great-lakes-canary-104381 <p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F70094818&amp;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/RS6823_Amy-Jo-Klei2-scr.jpg" style="height: 215px; width: 300px; float: right;" title="Amy Jo Klei is the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency’s Lake Erie manager. She’s overseeing a new three-year program to monitor the health of Lake Erie. (Great Lakes Echo)" />Back in the 1970&prime;s, Lake Erie &ndash; often referred to as the Great Lakes&rsquo; &ldquo;canary in the coal mine&rdquo; &ndash; was closely monitored by government agencies. As lake health improved, that scrutiny was gradually withdrawn and funds diverted elsewhere. But with the advent of new problems, from dead zones and algae blooms to invasive species like Asian carp, there are again many eyes on the lake. And the samplers are coming up with some surprising discoveries.</div></div><p>Amy Jo Klei grew up on Lake Erie and has been bringing her daughters here for years. But these days, she&rsquo;s worried about the changes she&rsquo;s seeing in the lake.</p><p>&rdquo; When my daughters were little, the water was clear, and I said, oh, isn&rsquo;t this great,&rdquo; Klei said. &ldquo;And the last few summers I&rsquo;ve been up here, my heart is aching and I&rsquo;m like, I&rsquo;ve gotta fix this,&rdquo; she said.</p><p>Klei is the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency&rsquo;s Lake Erie manager. It&rsquo;s her job to oversee a new three-year monitoring program to update conditions in the lake, funded by the federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. She&rsquo;s out on the Black River, a Lake Erie tributary to take part in the latest sampling.</p><div class="image-insert-image ">&ldquo;And the purpose of this was to collect the water quality data to assess the current conditions of the lake, to help us be able to detect trends and changes as they happen&rdquo; Klei said.</div><p>One of those changes has been massive harmful algae blooms, last seen in Lake Erie in the 1970&prime;s. Those blooms have hurt water quality and cost lake users &ndash; from water treatment plants to charter boat captains &ndash; tens of thousands of dollars a year. Klei says the algae issue, along with other emerging challenges to Lake Erie&rsquo;s health, have re-focused bi-national cooperation on lake monitoring in a way that&rsquo;s never been seen before. She cites a recent water quality agreement signed this fall between the US and Canada.</p><p>&ldquo;One of those, under the near shore annex of the new agreement, is the requirement to develop a comprehensive monitoring framework for Lake Erie,&rdquo; Klei said. &ldquo;And I&rsquo;m sure our work here and our monitoring will certainly be a key piece of that, along with our other state and Ontario partners. &rdquo;</p><p>Ohio EPA biologist Scott Winkler is checking on wildlife quality on the bottom of the Black River, a Lake Erie tributary.</p><p>Among those partners are the US EPA, the US Fish &amp; Wildlife Service, state Departments of Natural Resources from Michigan, Indiana and Ohio, Ohio Sea Grant, and research institutions like Heidelberg University of Ohio, Ohio State University&rsquo;s Stone Lab, and the Universityof Toledo. Canada is also a new partner. At the fall Great Lakes Week conference in Cleveland, Michael Goffin, regional director for Environment Canada in Ontario, said his government is now committed to new algae testing on Lake Erie.</p><p>&rdquo;It&rsquo;s in place this year and the funding continues for the next four years,&rdquo; Goffin said. &rdquo; That&rsquo;ll allow us to achieve the commitment within the amended Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement to have new targets in place within three years of entry into force of that agreement, &rdquo; he said.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/RS6824_Scott-Winkler-3-scr.jpg" style="float: left; height: 391px; width: 300px;" title="Ohio EPA biologist Scott Winkler is checking on wildlife quality on the bottom of the Black River, a Lake Erie tributary. (Great Lakes Echo)" />But three or four years may not be long enough to chart the course of changes in Lake Erie, some of which are also occurring in other Great Lakes&rsquo; bays and near shore areas. Ohio EPA biologist Scott Winkler says one of the things he&rsquo;s discovered from recent monitoring with new federally-funded equipment is that harmful algae blooms, previously thought to be primarily surface phenomena, may be far more complex, especially for the millions of people who get their drinking water from the lake.</div></div><p>&quot;Quite often, at water intakes, where they&rsquo;re drawing water from the lakes, the level where they&rsquo;re drawing water intakes, even when we don&rsquo;t see anything at the surface, we do see the toxin produced by this algae, microcystin, is in the water sample,&rdquo; Winkler said. &ldquo;Yet when you look at the water, it looks clear, it looks nice, everything looks fine. Through this sampling, we&rsquo;re seeing that one of the potential reasons for this increase is that all of the algae is down there, at the level where this intake is drawing it in,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Scott Winkler is an Ohio EPA biologist who&rsquo;s been monitoring the Black River, a Lake Erie tributary, for the last 3 years.</p><p>Winkler and Klei say that new state and federal water quality monitoring on Lake Erie will likely continue beyond current federal funding, set to expire next year. In the meantime, Klei says all eyes are on Lake Erie. She&rsquo;s even got charter captains testing for signs of algae.</p><p>&ldquo;These guys live on the lake, they&rsquo;ve been on it their whole lives,&rdquo; Klei said. &ldquo;They know when change is happening, they know when something unusual is going on. It&rsquo;s just been really helpful. &rdquo;</p><p><em><a href="http://greatlakesecho.org/" target="_blank">Great Lakes Echo</a> is a project of the <a href="http://ej.msu.edu/index2.php" target="_blank">Knight Center for Environmental Journalism</a> at Michigan State University. </em></p></p> Sat, 15 Dec 2012 09:43:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/keeping-eye-great-lakes-canary-104381 Gas drilling could take air out of offshore wind http://www.wbez.org/content/gas-drilling-could-take-air-out-offshore-wind <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/photo/2011-November/2011-11-08/Wind_Farm_D36.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>I understand the power of Lake Erie wind as soon we’re out past the breakwaters of Cleveland Harbor. The waves make our 74-foot tugboat bob like a rubber toy in my preschooler’s bath tub.</p><p>Before long, I’m sweating and looking for a place to heave.</p><p>Right next to me, Bill Mason seems to be enjoying the ride. In fact, he wants to show me a spot where the wind is even stronger. “Where we’re headed is to an anemometer,” Mason says, mispronouncing the instrument’s name. “It’s been measuring the wind speeds since, I think, 2007. So I know we have good wind.”</p><p>Mason doesn’t know all the particulars about wind energy. But, as the Cuyahoga County prosecutor, he knows a lot about Northeast Ohio. Since taking office in 1999, Mason has seen about a 100,000 manufacturing jobs disappear from the area.</p><p>Installing a handful of wind turbines offshore could spark a revival, Mason says, changing Cleveland’s image from a deindustrialized ghost town to “a green city on the blue lake.”</p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/insert-image/2011-November/2011-11-09/RS4522_Wind_Farm_A28-scr.jpg" style="width: 275px; height: 184px; margin-left: 0px; margin-right: 18px; float: left;" title="Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Bill Mason says putting turbines in Lake Erie could revive the city. (Front and Center/Bridget Caswell)">Mason has been promoting the wind-farm idea for seven years. In 2009, he helped form a quasi-public group, the Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation, to turn the idea into reality. Representing Cleveland and four counties along the lake, LEEDCo has held dozens of community meetings. It has secured an option for nine square miles of the lake. It has studied possible impacts on wildlife. And it has begun work on designs and permits.</p><p>Mason tells me Cleveland could help build offshore wind farms throughout the Great Lakes. He points to the city’s proximity to rail lines, deep-water port facilities and manufacturers. He says companies in the area could retool to make parts and supplies ranging from transmission cables to ice-resistant blade coating. The wind-farm supporters commissioned a study that says their project could lead to 15,000 new Ohio jobs within two decades.</p><p>The supply chain could include Lincoln Electric, which makes welding equipment in Euclid, a suburb northeast of Cleveland. Lincoln Electric is already getting a taste of wind-energy generation since installing a 443-foot-tall turbine this year to help power the company’s main plant.</p><p>Driving up the lakeshore, I can see the three rotor blades spinning from miles away. On a windy day, the tips go 160 miles an hour, the company tells me. But I can’t hear any sound from the turbine until I’m within a stone’s throw. Looking straight up at the blades, I notice a subtle swoosh as each one passes.</p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/insert-image/2011-November/2011-11-09/RS4525_Wind_Farm_D36-scr.jpg" style="width: 275px; height: 183px; float: right; margin-left: 15px; margin-right: 4px;" title="Lincoln Electric’s Seth Mason says his company’s new turbine provides a case study for the offshore project. (Front and Center/Bridget Caswell)">The turbine has given a lot of local people—from regulators to engineers to truck drivers—their first contact with a wind project. Lincoln Electric energy manager Seth Mason (no relation to the prosecutor) says this experience could help with the offshore installation, which would be just a few miles away.</p><p>“You basically have the same wind regime [and] you’re basically going to have the same amount of migratory birds at this longitude,” Mason says. “So I think it provides a case study for the next machine.”</p><p>It’s not just local boosters who think a Lake Erie wind farm could revive Northeast Ohio. Christopher Hart, the U.S. Department of Energy’s offshore wind chief, sees it that way too. “If a place like Cleveland is able to establish the demonstration project and then is able to leverage that demonstration project into a larger position in the industry, this could really, really have an impact on the local economy.”</p><p>Hart tells me Cleveland has the best shot at installing the first Great Lakes wind farm. But he points to a huge barrier: “Given the current technology, given the current regulatory structure, offshore wind doesn’t make economic sense.”</p><p>DOE calculations suggest it’s more than twice as expensive to generate electricity from offshore wind as from coal, natural gas or nuclear fission. The New York Power Authority pointed to costs this fall when it pulled the plug on some proposed Great Lakes turbines.</p><p> <style type="text/css"> div .inline { width: 290px; float: left; margin-right: 19px; margin-left: 3px; clear: left; font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif; font-size: 14px; line-height: 1em; background-repeat: no-repeat; background-position: 0pt 5px; padding-left: 3px; margin-bottom: 0.5em; }div .inlineContent { border-top: 1px dotted rgb(170, 33, 29); margin-bottom: 5px; margin-top: 2px; }ul { margin-left: 15px; }li { font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: 1em; background-repeat: no-repeat; background-position: 0pt 5px; padding-left: 3px; margin-bottom: 0.5em; }</style> </p><div class="inline"><div class="inlineContent"><a href="/frontandcenter"><img alt="" src="http://www.wbez.org/sites/default/files/story/insert-image/2011-November/2011-11-06/FC-logo-sm_0.jpg" style="width: 280px; height: 38px;" title=""></a><ul><li><strong><a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/plant-entrepreneurs-turn-waste-jobs-93782"><span style="color: rgb(255, 0, 0);">ViDEO:</span></a> <a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/plant-entrepreneurs-turn-waste-jobs-93782">Plant turns waste into jobs</a></strong></li><li><a href="http://www.wbez.org/imadeajob"><strong><span style="color: rgb(255, 0, 0);">INTERACT: </span>Made a Job? Tell us about it.</strong></a></li><li><a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/can-milwaukee-become-silicon-valley-water-93835"><strong>The Silicon Valley of water</strong>:<strong> Milwaukee?</strong></a></li></ul></div><div class="inlineContent">&nbsp;</div></div><p>That frustrates Chris Wisseman, who leads a consortium called Freshwater Wind that LEEDCo chose last year to develop Cleveland’s offshore wind farm. “All we’re talking about here is a new technology that looks like it’s got the ability to be very cost-effective inside of a decade,” he says.</p><p>The construction will run about $130 million, Wisseman tells me. The financing will be tricky because few utilities are eager to buy electricity that is so expensive. The only purchaser on board so far is municipally owned Cleveland Public Power, which has agreed to buy a quarter of the wind-farm output.</p><p>So LEEDCo is pushing for Ohio to <em>compel</em> utilities to buy the electricity and pass along the cost to customers—a process known as rate recovery. If the plan covered just northern Ohio, Wisseman says, business and residential customers would each pay an extra $0.40 a month.</p><p>The area’s big utility, Akron-based First Energy, says it won’t take a stand on that rate recovery until it sees a proposal. The Ohio Association of Manufacturers tells me it will probably go along with the plan if it doesn’t hit electricity-intensive companies hard.</p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/insert-image/2011-November/2011-11-08/Kasich.jpg" style="width: 275px; height: 268px; margin-top: 5px; margin-left: 0px; margin-right: 18px; float: left;" title="Ohio Gov. John Kasich isn’t saying whether he’ll support rate recovery for the offshore wind project. (AP/File)">But rate recovery won’t get far without support from Gov. John Kasich. He appoints the members of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, which regulates the state’s electricity rates. And his Republican Party controls both houses of the state legislature.</p><p>At an energy forum Kasich’s office organized this fall, the governor didn’t leave any doubt that his energy focus would be an Appalachian rock layer called Utica Shale. In Ohio, that shale holds a lot of natural gas. To free up the fuel, companies such as Oklahoma-based Chesapeake Energy Corp. want to drill thousands of horizontal wells and inject pressurized fluids—a process known as fracking.</p><p>An industry-funded study says the fracking could create more than 200,000 jobs in Ohio over the next four years. The potential boom is keeping Kasich’s staff busy. “We have had 129 separate meetings—5 regional meetings, 78 with business associations, 46 meetings with oil-and-gas division experts—all across Ohio,” the governor said at the forum.</p><p>At the same time, contaminated groundwater in nearby Pennsylvania is giving fracking a bad name. Kasich promises environmental safeguards for Ohio.</p><p>The governor says he’ll also promote renewable energy efforts. So, when I catch up with him, I ask whether those will include Cleveland’s offshore wind project.</p><p>“There is a place for renewables,” Kasich replies. “But we have to be very clear: They’re very expensive. That doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities in the state. It doesn’t mean that over time they [won’t] become less expensive. But specific projects have to be looked at very, very carefully.”</p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/insert-image/2011-November/2011-11-09/RS4524_Wind_Farm_C26-scr.jpg" style="width: 275px; height: 184px; margin-left: 15px; margin-right: 2px; margin-top: 5px; float: right;" title="A tugboat captain who knows about Lake Erie wind recalls cleaning a seasick crewmate with a hose. (Front and Center/Bridget Caswell)">I press Kasich, asking whether he will support the rate recovery proposed for the offshore project. He declines to answer.</p><p>Another Ohio Republican is talking about that rate recovery. State Sen. Kris Jordan, who represents suburbs north of Columbus, tells me it’s a bad idea. “I just don’t believe—when we have more affordable, more ready energy sources—that government should be subsidizing" an offshore wind farm.</p><p>Back on the Lake Erie tugboat, the vessel’s captain notices my pale color. He says he once had to clean off a seasick crewmate with a hose.</p><p>Bill Mason, the prosecutor behind the proposed wind farm, agrees I’ve seen enough of the lake. On the way back to port, he shakes his head at the thought of a natural-gas boom tripping up his project.</p><p>“We don’t know how much energy is going to be produced from this fracking,” Mason says. “We don’t know the environmental damage that possibly could happen from it. And we don’t know what it’s going to cost, if there is damage, for that recovery. If we take that step down that road, won’t it be nice to know that we have other alternatives such as the wind industry out here on the Great Lakes?”</p><p>And wouldn’t it be nice, Mason adds, if the center of that industry were Cleveland?</p><p>&nbsp;</p><h2>Great Lakes wind projects struggle for footing</h2><p>Offshore wind-energy advocates face tall hurdles in the Great Lakes, but some projects are advancing. WBEZ’s Maham Khan brings us these snapshots.</p><script type="text/javascript" src="http://public.tableausoftware.com/javascripts/api/viz_v1.js"></script><div class="tableauPlaceholder" style="width: 554px; height: 769px;"><noscript><a href="#"><img alt="Offshore wind " src="http:&#47;&#47;public.tableausoftware.com&#47;static&#47;images&#47;Gr&#47;GreatLakesoffshorewindfarmproposalsandstudies&#47;Offshorewind&#47;1_rss.png" style="height: 100%; width: 100%; border: none" /></a></noscript><object class="tableauViz" style="display: none;" width="554" height="769"><param name="host_url" value="http%3A%2F%2Fpublic.tableausoftware.com%2F"><param name="name" value="GreatLakesoffshorewindfarmproposalsandstudies/Offshorewind"><param name="tabs" value="no"><param name="toolbar" value="yes"><param name="static_image" value="http://public.tableausoftware.com/static/images/Gr/GreatLakesoffshorewindfarmproposalsandstudies/Offshorewind/1.png"><param name="animate_transition" value="yes"><param name="display_static_image" value="yes"><param name="display_spinner" value="yes"><param name="display_overlay" value="yes"></object></div><div style="width: 554px; height: 22px; padding: 0px 10px 0px 0px; color: black; font: 8pt verdana,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;"><div style="float: right; padding-right: 8px;">&nbsp;</div></div></p> Wed, 09 Nov 2011 11:11:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/content/gas-drilling-could-take-air-out-offshore-wind Runaway algae returns to Lake Erie http://www.wbez.org/frontandcenter/2011-06-23/runaway-algae-returns-lake-erie-88249 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/frontandcenter/photo/2011-06-23/88249/2009 Algal Bloom Stone Lab 001 (8).jpg" alt="" /><p><p><strong>READ: Toxic Water, Part 1,&nbsp; </strong><strong><a href="http://www.wbez.org/frontandcenter/2011-06-22/anniversary-cuyahoga-fires-igniting-environmental-movement-88161">Anniversary of Cuyahoga fires igniting environmental movement </a></strong></p><p>Runaway algae blooms that killed fish and fouled beaches in the 1970's have been making a comeback on Lake Erie – and they're showing up now in other Great Lakes.&nbsp; Until recently, they didn't get much attention, but the problems have been getting worse.&nbsp; After years of research, scientists think they've finally pinpointed the source of the blooms.&nbsp; But they worry it won't be as easy to fix this time around.</p><p>There's no sign yet of algae in the muddy water here at the mouth of the Maumee River in Toledo on western Lake Erie.&nbsp; But it's late spring and Tom Bridgeman knows it's coming, “It's getting worse, the last couple years have been really bad.”</p><p>Bridgeman is a researcher at the University of Toledo's Lake Erie Center. He's been watching the algae come back every year since he first saw the satellite image of a massive algae bloom in 2003. “It started near the mouth of the Maumee River, so several hundred square kilometers was covered by this bloom,” &nbsp;says Bridgeman, “It looked like a scum of bright green paint on the surface of the water.&nbsp; And as boats went through it...you could see them cutting trails through this sort of green scum on the surface.”</p><p>The scum is Microcystis, a toxic form of blue-green algae that can give you cramps and diarrhea if you swallow it and can also cause a nasty skin rash.&nbsp; The toxins accumulate in the livers of fish, but Bridgeman says so far fish don't seem to be affected, nor are people who eat them.&nbsp; But the algae does have an impact on Toledo's drinking water, which comes from Lake Erie. “I've heard that the city of Toledo spends an extra 3 or 4-thousand dollars per day in extra filtration costs during an algal bloom,” says Bridgeman.</p><p>Bridgeman says it's wreaking havoc with sport fishing and tourism on the lake.&nbsp; And more people are staying away.&nbsp; Bridgeman says the algae smells even worse than it looks, “Especially when it washes up on shore and starts to dry out and decompose, it really has sort of a fishy, you know, garbage-y sort of odor.”</p><p>Bridgeman's research is crucial to helping predict the blooms and their severity.&nbsp;&nbsp; Many forms of algae are a natural and necessary nutrient for fish, but they can get out of control when their food source is ramped up by human activity.&nbsp;</p><p>In the last few years toxic algae has also been showing up along beaches in Lake Ontario.&nbsp; And in Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, thick blankets of non-toxic, nuisance algae often coat the shoreline.&nbsp; Scientist and educator Jeff Reutter is head of Ohio Sea Grant. &nbsp;He's spent his entire career working on Lake Erie issues.&nbsp; Standing near Cleveland's Lake Erie harbor, Reutter remembers when algae as thick as pea soup bloomed in the lake in the 1970's., “The breakwall here, a little bit east of where we're standing, someone had painted on the breakwall, 'Help me, I'm dying' and signed it 'Lake Erie.'”</p><p>Reutter says in fresh water, phosphorus is the nutrient that algae needs to grow.&nbsp; Too much causes rampant blooms. Reutter says cutbacks of phosphorus from laundry detergents and sewage treatment plants nearly a generation ago seemed to solve the problem.&nbsp; Reutter believes the return of algae blooms is a sign that Lake Erie is once again sick, “The big concern I have is that I feel like I started with Lake Erie really bad.&nbsp; Huge improvements brought about by the mid-1980's.&nbsp; And unfortunately, since 1995, it's been going downhill ever since.”</p><p>Reutter says the mid-90's was when dead zones - much like those in the Gulf Mexico - started showing up again in Lake Erie.&nbsp; Dead zones form when decaying algae blooms use up oxygen in the water, forcing fish and other wildife to migrate – or die.&nbsp; So scientists like Pete Richards, a researcher at the National Water Quality Research Center at Ohio's Heidelberg University, have been working to solve the phosphorus mystery.&nbsp; Richards thinks he's found the answer. “When 80-percent of the land use in a watershed is agriculture, it's almost inevitable that a major source of the phosphorus loading is going to be from the agricultural fields,” says Richards.</p><p>Richards worked on the investigating team with the Lake Erie Phosphorus Task Force, which last year released new recommendations about how and when farmers should fertilize their fields “In some senses, the fixes are obvious.&nbsp; You don't do it in the fall, you get it underground, rather than on the surface.&nbsp; But for every obvious fix, there's a good reason why it doesn't get done,” says Richards. He says he task force recommends fertilizing in the spring, when plants will use it up.</p><p>At a farm about 50-miles south of Lake Erie, dairy farmer Ted Sonnenberg says it isn't always possible to follow the recommendations – like this spring when he saw record-breaking rainfall, “There aren't enough good days in the spring.&nbsp; We have not been able to touch the fields behind the dairy, because they're too wet.”</p><p>A recent study by Ohio State University found 30-percent of Ohio's farmland has too much phosphorus.&nbsp; With federal money from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, Sonnenberg&nbsp; is reducing the phosphorus output of his dairy by building new ponds to store the manure.</p><p>Sonnenberg is trying to be more sustainable, but many farmers aren't.&nbsp; And some researchers admit they're not sure that voluntary compliance from farmers will be enough to reduce the phosphorus that's feeding Lake Erie algae.&nbsp; There are other things that may help.&nbsp; Last year, 16-states, including Ohio and six other Great Lakes states, passed bans on phosphorus in dishwasher detergents.&nbsp; And several manufacturers, like Scotts, have removed phosphorus from their lawncare products.</p><p>For now, algae blooms will likely continue to plague Lake Erie and its shoreline.&nbsp; And that worries Toledo resident Alli Weber whenever she swims here at Maumee Bay State Park, a few miles east of Toledo.&nbsp; Weber and her 3-year old daughter Lillian enjoy cooling off in Lake Erie, but not when smelly mats of algae wash ashore.<br> <br> “I don't like it,” says Webber, “ I don't know if it's safe.&nbsp; Especially when I bring her, because she, like, touches it and I don't like that.”</p><p>This summer, Ohio health officials unveiled a new website that tells swimmers and boaters where algae blooms are located and how to avoid getting sick from them. Scientists say if they can figure out solutions, the lakes will recover quickly.&nbsp; But if the blooms get worse, the impacts on human health and the environment could grow.&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Thu, 23 Jun 2011 15:53:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/frontandcenter/2011-06-23/runaway-algae-returns-lake-erie-88249